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stemming destructive shrimp aquaculture

The shrimp aquaculture industry razes forests and biodiversity, destroys croplands and livelihoods, and wreaks social conflict and human rights violations. Faced with mounting resistance from civil society in Asia and Latin America, the shrimp industry is in the process of expanding into Africa.

malaysia ngo conference in indonesiaYet opposition to this industry continues to solidify. In 2006, a crucial meeting about shrimp aquaculture industry certification produced the Bangkok Declaration, which rejects certification as a diversionary industry tactic that will fail to stem destruction.

The current project, a South-North Consultation on shrimp aquaculture, was hosted by ASIA. This coalition of 24 Asian NGOs and peoples’ movements was founded in 2005 by Friends of the Earth Malaysia / Sahabat Alam Malaysia, Friends of the Earth Indonesia / WALHI, and Friends of the Earth Bangladesh / BELA, among others. The current project aims to provide a way forward from the Bangkok Declaration. It was held in Indonesia against the backdrop of one of the world’s largest shrimp projects – the Dipasena Project in Lampung.

what happened: Under the Bangkok Declaration, ASIA groups aim to actively oppose the industry push for shrimp aquaculture industry certification. The 30 delegates from 20 countries agreed their central goal would be to formulate a ground-level consumer campaign in the North, to directly address buyers of these shrimp. It would also promote livelihood security in the South and strengthen the movement at a global level, while providing political space for the voices of affected communities.

An additional activity was to expose the delegates to the first-hand realities of the Dipasena Project area. Though our request to tour the mega-farm was declined at the last moment, an informal and interactive session with local farmers brought to light the harsh realities they face.

what is changing:
A major achievement of the Consultation was the Lampung Declaration, agreed and released at the end of this meeting. It creates a unifying ideological foundation for the movement, and forms a skeleton for a hoped-for “Global Alliance”.

Participants agreed to concentrate on farmed aquaculture, with a focus on farmed tropical shrimp. They also agreed to organize a seminar in Europe for September 2007 which will include a media package, and potential attendees being those from hotel associations, retails, as well as NGOs, media, politicians and celebrities.

Another outcome was an agreement to celebrate International Mangrove Day, but with each region selecting its own date. The participants also committed to reopening the debate on a resolution adopted in 1999, at the 2008 RAMSAR convention in Korea. (This resolution calls on governments to cease expansion of aquaculture activities harmful to coastal wetlands.)

They agreed to closely watch events at upcoming Eurepgap meetings, where shrimp retailers are at the table. (Eurepgap is a private-sector body that sets voluntary standards to certify agricultural products around the globe.) Finally, they agreed on a plan that will allow information sharing between their countries, across diverse languages.

what we learned: African delegates at the Consultation described how the shrimp industry is spreading to Madagascar, Gambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, with as-yet unknown impacts. Oil companies and other businesses are also entering the industry. Latin American delegates said their immediate thrust was to prevent further expansion. In Thailand a new concern has raised its head as abandoned shrimp farms are turned into palm oil plantations, while elsewhere in Asia the main focus is preventing the resurgence of a fallen industrial aquaculture industry.

With regards to certification, the challenge presented by large NGOs — chiefly WWF — which support certification, highlights the need to “fight” for a global alliance that will put pro-people development first. It was decided to send a strong message to pro-certification NGOs. Participants also agreed that terms like “sustainable aquaculture”, “ethical/ecological/sustainable shrimp/sustainable aquaculture’ are highly misleading and should not be used in our campaigns.

African delegates, alarmed by the destructive shrimp trawling industry, expressed concern about limiting this movement’s scope to farmed aquaculture. However, the participants decided to constrain their focus to aquaculture at this time, and address the issue of massive and destructive “by-catch” of the trawling industry under other campaigns in Africa. The question of certification for wild-caught shrimp was also raised, but its prudence at this juncture was questioned.

what next: The delegates will take part in the build-up for the Seminar in 2008, for which responsibilities have been delegated. A committee will facilitate information sharing, and ASIA will begin cataloguing and collecting material for a joint website.

One exciting development is a consumer campaign soon to be officially launched in Seattle, USA by the Mangrove Action Project.

Some delegates were very keen to form a Global Alliance – where individual organizations and networks would shed their identities and work together under a common name. While groups can work independently in their own countries, they felt that combating a global opponent requires a global and united front line. Nevertheless, those at Lampung felt the time was not yet right. “Perhaps we are all waiting for some successes before we are ready to commit,” said FoE Malaysia’s Mohd Nizam Mahshar.

with thanks to our funders: the sigrid rausing trust

photo credit: pureza c. ekid

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